It was an unexpected surprise, but a welcome one, for sure.
That’s how Vivian Belik, co-programmer for the 2019 Available Light Film Festival (ALFF) described the fact that this year, exactly half of the 44 films on ALFF’s program were directed by women.
“It’s not even like we were even trying to fill a quota this year, we just happened to count … and I was very happily surprised to find that 50 per cent of our program was created by women,” Belik said in an interview in January.
Although the 50-50 split between male and female directors wasn’t intentional, Belik said it was an important marker nonetheless.
“I like to think that we’ve always had a strong feminist lens and kind of an eye on progressive films and filmmaking and cinema, but certainly, going forward, I think it is something we’ll be keeping an eye on,” she said, noting that much larger festivals, like Hot Docs and the Toronto International Film Festival, have also began tracking whose voices and stories are being promoted on their screens.
While men can certainly bring a feminist approach to filmmaking, Belik said it’s also “super important” to have women involved in filmmaking too.
“I think women do bring something different to the table … It’s certainly a different perspective, you’re looking at things in a different way, and also (it brings a) different world view,” she said.
“…You’re not going to have flat female characters. There’s going to be more substances and there’s going to be more care in terms of the female story arc and narrative.”
Among the women-directed films featured by ALFF this year are SGaawaay K’uuna (Edge of the Knife), believed to be the world’s first Haida-language film, co-directed by Tsilhqot’in filmmaker Helen Haig-Brown; Les Salopes or the Naturally Wanton Pleasure of Skin, an exploration of female sexuality from the perspective of a middle-age woman, directed by Renée Beaulieu; and The Song and the Sorrow, directed by Millefiore Clarkes, in which Catherine MacLellan, the daughter of Canadian singer-songwriter Gene MacLellan, confronts her father’s musical legacy and suicide.
This year’s gala-opening film was also directed by a woman, and a Yukoner at that — Naomi Mark’s How To Bee, a documentary in which her father teaches her the art of beekeeping as his health declines, is scheduled to screen at 7 p.m. on Feb. 3.
The event will also double as the film’s world premier, something that Mark said was a natural choice.
“The story is such a Yukon story. My dad lived in the Yukon for nearly 50 years, grew up there, and … I think of myself being raised by the Yukon Film Society,” Mark said. “It’s the place I first rented a camera from to make my very first film outside of film school and it’s sort of been there in some way or another supporting my film career for most of the significant steps that I’ve taken. So yeah, it’s just important to me personally and for the film as well, it just made sense.”
She added that it was “amazing” that half of the films on ALFF’s 2019 program were woman-directed, reiterating Belik’s point that having a woman directing can make female characters and subjects more whole and complex.
“Just as with Indigenous representation, the most authentic stories come from people who have had those experiences, so if you want to tell a story about a strong female lead, yes, a male director can lend a voice to that … Those stories can be told by male directors and male writers and male producers, but it creates something different when you have someone who actually has those experiences to speak to those stories,” she said.
“It’s really cool to see this sort of shift in focus where we’re lifting up female filmmakers and female voices… I think it’s a huge sign of how things have shifted and the way they’re going in the future.”
The Available Light Film Festival runs from Feb. 2 to 10. Visit yukonfilmsociety.com/alff for program and guest details.
Contact Jackie Hong at firstname.lastname@example.org